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Vanessa Chang, “From Playback to Play: Gestural Invention and Digital Music”
The advent of sound recording at the end of the 19th century fostered seemingly firm distinctions between live musical performance and the mere playback of records. Live performance affirmed the presence of the player through the indexical inscription of her gestures, via the instrument, as sound waves, onto the world. On the other hand, sound recording seemed to split noise from its source, allowing sounds to issue from anywhere in the landscape. This ostensible split has endured in other oppositions hence, such as the physical and metaphorical aspects of musical gesture, human and machine, and in the distinctions between analog and digital media. And yet, live performances using sound media have blurred these binaries at the site of contact between body and instrument. By playing with these media as they were never intended, musicians merged audition with disruption to produce unforeseen creative possibilities. Through exquisite gestural choreographies on turntables and now, drum machines, digital samplers and wearable interfaces, musicians brought new instruments into being. These inventive impulses, whether incarnated in hardware or through gestural performances, suggest the complexity of the relationship between artists and electronic instruments, ourselves and the media we use. Against the rhetoric of splitting, I discuss how such performances, mediated in gesture, instead model an emergent dialectical agency.
Vanessa studies the intersections of media and technology with human embodiment in literary, visual and sonic art. Titled “Tracing Electronic Gesture: A Poetics of Mediated Movement,” her dissertation uses gesture as a nexus to explore the impact of media technologies on human movement, creativity, agency and subjectivity. Spanning contemporary literature, electronic music, performance and visual culture such as comics, animation and motion capture, her research traces how the gestures that produce such texts have evolved from analog to digital media. Other interests include hip-hop, remix culture, circuses, street art, urban space, sound studies, graphic narrative, new media, screens and projection mapping.